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2009-05-01
Queensbury,NY. Developer Says "Greener" Wal-Mart Opens A Can of Worms

On October 19, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that citizens in Queensbury, New York were feeling 'boxed in' by developers. The town of Queensbury, with a population of roughly 28,000 people, is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Queensbury likes to promote itself as "part of the great northern wilderness," once a favorite hunting and fishing site for the Iroquois indians during the summer months. But the wilderness is long gone, replaced now by an infestation of supersize chain stores. The Post Star newspaper reported seven months ago that a "mysterious" 150,000 s.f. big box store being proposed for Quaker Road in Queensbury was actually nothing more than another Wal-Mart supercenter. This came as quite a shock to some residents, because the town already has Wal-Mart superstore #2116 in Queensbury on Route 9 -- just a few minutes drive from the Quaker Road site of the proposed second supercenter. Wal-Mart announced on October 17, 2008 that they wanted to break ground soon in Queensbury. The project had to pass muster with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the New York state Department of Transportation -- but these agencies were unlikely to create any problems for Wal-Mart. Some building and subdivision approvals are also needed from Queensbury officials. But the developer, VMJR Companies, hopes to be open in time for the next autumn shopping run-up to Christmas. "It's all those little pieces that have to come together. Everything's being worked on right now," a spokesman for the developer told the Post Star last October. All during review of this project at the county and town level, the name of the retail store in the VMJR project was never announced. Apparently local residents had no clue that the development would be another Wal-Mart supercenter so close to an existing store. When Wal-Mart 'revealed' themselves, they did not even mention Queensbury as the trade area. "Wal-Mart is excited to be able to better serve the Hudson Falls area," a company spokesman said. "Shoppers now, more than ever, want the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart for the savings and convenience that our stores provide." The Wal-Mart will be just a stone's throw from a 160,000 s.f. Super Kmart, which will take the biggest sales loss when the second Wal-Mart supercenter opens. Wal-Mart described this new store as a "reduced-size" supercenter. The original proposal was for a 225,000 s.f. store. In addition to drawing sales from the nearby Kmart, the existing Wal-Mart in Queensbury will also lose sales, but that's OK with Wal-Mart. "The store that we have there (Route 9) is really doing well and this is actually going to take a little bit of pressure off," the Wal-Mart spokesman added. The retailer claims that having two stores in the immediate area is not unusual. "I would say it's fairly common especially when you get to medium to larger towns," Wal-Mart's regional manager said. But this week, the accelerated time schedule for the second superstore hit the Wal. The project will be delayed for several months, because Wal-Mart has changed its plans yet again. The Planning Board met on April 28th, and tabled the plan for a later date. Wal-Mart says it now wants to resubmit a "new prototype for greener, more ecologically friendly stores," according to the Post Star newspaper. Developer Victor Macri, Jr. told the newspaper, "Wal-Mart is trying to do downsized stores which are smaller, greener, less of a carbon footprint." The changes were significant enough the Macri had to return to the Planning Board with a revised proposal. For the developer, the 'green' store just means more delay and frustration. "It's opened up a whole new can of worms," the developer admitted. "We are sitting now, pushed off for approvals until July." Macri called the changes "minor," such as reconfiguring the garden center and the parking lot -- but the size of the building has changed again. The store's color, lighting and landscaping have changed. More significant could be the stormwater changes. But from the developer's perspective, these 'minor' changes spelled the end of hopes for breaking ground in June, and an opening by Christmas is shot. Macri even raised the specter that Wal-Mart might drop out of the project entirely. "I don't know. I have no idea. I mean, we've got to get approvals," he told the Post Star. "In this economy, who knows what could happen. (Wal-Mart) could just turn around and cancel the project. They could say they don't want to do the project." The Town Supervisor didn't know quite how to handle the latest delay. "They've gotten approval for a 150,000 s.f. Wal-Mart and I think that's going to be a good thing for the town and the county," the supervisor said, "but the town isn't the one that changed the plans."

What you can do: Neither the town, nor the county needs a second Wal-Mart superstore only minutes from the first. This could be the reason that Wal-Mart is scaling down the size of this proposed superstore. The retailer has been criticized in the past for constructing stores that cannibalize their own sales. Last October, Kmart staff were asked to comment on the Wal-Mart saturation of Queensbury. "We won't comment on our competition but we do have some items in our store that make us unique," a Kmart spokesperson said. "Retail is a competitive business. Everywhere we have a store, there's another competitor that has a store in that area." The developer told the newspaper that he's planning on developing some spin-off retail project on an adjacent site. Queensbury clearly is being overstocked with big box stores for a town with only 28,000 people. This saturation of superstores offers no added value to the economy of Queensbury. Wal-Mart continues to close down its "older" discount stores, like the one in Hudson, New York, south of Albany, New York. The Hudson Wal-Mart is up for sale or lease. It's a 125,886 s.f. store, for sale for $4.2 million. The store was built in 1993 and remodeled in 2003. According to Wal-Mart's description of the Hudson property, it is being sold because "Wal-Mart will be relocating to a project within an immediate two hundred yards on the opposite side of the road." Readers are urged to contact Queensbury, New York Town Supervisor Dan Stec at Supervisor@queensbury.net with the following message: "Dear Supervisor Stec, It seems that Queensbury has a hard time saying No to national chain stores, and now you've managed to become overpopulated with superstores -- the second Wal-Mart being the symbol of your excesses. When the Super Kmart closes, you may have a hard time disposing of that property. Other communities, realizing that a Wal-Mart opening means other stores will close, have asked Wal-Mart to help pay for some of the adverse impacts its store will have on the existing downtown and other merchants. Lodi, California and St. Albans, Vermont are just two recent examples. Queensbury should consider requiring new chain stores to put money into escrow to cover the cost of razing any of their stores that do not remain open as a retail establishment for 12 consecutive months or more. If you want to see what will happen to your Kmart, drive south to Hudson and see the 125,886 square foot Wal-Mart that's been emptied out by the giant retailer, and is for sale or lease. Queensbury doesn't have the population based in your trade area to support two Wal-Mart superstores. Most sales at the Quaker Road location will come from the existing superstore and Kmart. This is not a form of economic development, and it will not generate new jobs for your residents. It's never too late to pass a cap on the size of retail buildings. Queensbury is already behind the curve on that score, and your pitch that Queensbury is a hunting and fishing destination will have to be changed to refer to discount shoppers hunting for cheap underwear. The latest delay from Wal-Mart, so they can 'reduce their carbon footprint' is a trend being seen nationally. Wal-Mart now realizes that consumers want smaller stores. Recently a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada said that smaller superstores (around 100,000 s.f.) were "cost-efficient in terms of land, construction and equipment, thus lowering our operating costs, resulting in lower prices for our customers. It also fits well with our focus on environmental sustainability because it decreases the size of our footprint." Queensbury should tell Wal-Mart that if they want to reduce their carbon footprint, they should stop building superstores minutes from each other. The Quaker Road project should not be allowed to go forward at any size."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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